The Price of a Future Financial aid burden weighs heavy on Central Coast students


By Daniela Ochoa
Monterey County Youth Media Project

Zaira Escalante knew her future waited inside the envelope. She tore it open, quickly read the contents, and a gasp escaped her mouth. The University of California, Davis had accepted her into the Class of 2021.

She looked at the aid provided and thought, “Wow, this sounds like a lot of money.” But was it?

She made the calculations and found out that everything was not covered. The school gave her over half of the total costs in aid, but still expected her to pay $11,000 per year. Escalante, like most American students, will struggle with the rising college costs.

Thousands of Central Coast students apply to college and seek financial aid every fall. The pressure to go to a renowned school is high in today’s society. The average household income is $68,208, but the estimated cost of college is around $100,000. How are students dealing with the stress of finances and college?

At California State University, Monterey Bay, 72 percent of the students receive financial aid. The total cost of attendance is $21,683 including tuition and housing. Many low-income students have to work to pay expenses not covered by financial aid.

For many students this is an issue, but that does not stop them from achieving their dreams. “I’m offered work study since I am low income, so I’ll most likely do that. But that only covers $2,000. Aside from that I’ll look for scholarships as well as working for the rest of my summers in the upcoming years,” said Escalante.

In some cases, financial aid is no trouble whatsoever. “It has not been a burden at all. With the help of my family and myself, I am currently able to get things done and bought for my education.” said Adam Zavala, a current student at Hartnell College where 86 percent of students receive some form of aid.

Still, the issue of whether there will be enough money to pay for schooling is very troubling to many students. “I have constant anxiety, I think about it all the time,” said Ashly Nguyen, who will be attending San Francisco State University.  Anxiety because of finances is also on Zaira Escalante’s mind. “It’s all I think about. I worry about whether I will be able to attend my college for the full four years, especially with the tuition hikes every year. It’s impossible not to be anxious about the future.” The stress that comes with college is very common among students.

Nguyen said, “I know I’ll do my best to succeed even if it’s not enough. But the question is if the money is enough for me to have a chance to succeed? Then no. I should have this opportunity assured because what’s the point of financial aid if it’s not enough? Like do a couple classes and then, ‘Oh man can’t afford it.’”

“I do not believe that the aid provided is enough for me to be successful,” Escalante said. “It seems that every year FAFSA changes its standards when granting financial aid. My sister had more than enough aid to cover her tuition when she entered college four years ago. Now she receives little to no aid. Who’s to say the same won’t happen to me?” 

According to Forbes, college debt is rising — totaling around  $1.3 trillion. “The whole system needs to get it together. We’re trying to attend college to build ourselves up. How can we do that if we don’t have enough to even start making it a reality?” Escalante said.

Some students hope the system will change and will focus more on those in need. “Can they do anything? I feel like they’ve never done anything, so I can’t think of something they could do.” said Ashly Nguyen.

“They need to look at the big picture. For example, they don’t know my whole situation. They just look at taxes and decide, ‘Oh well they’re making this much, it should be enough,’ and I think that’s total BS,” Escalante said.

It could get worse before it gets better — the CSU system recently approved another tuition hike.

“In order for more low-income students to achieve their goal of attending a college where they can better themselves, the system must help with this issue,” said Alejandra Silva, a youth advocate with Building Healthy Communities in Salinas. “We can’t entirely rely on the system. Students know they can always find scholarships to help with their academic financial needs, but we can’t deny the broader issue. Students need the opportunity to grow as people and future professionals.”

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Daniela Ochoa

About Daniela Ochoa

Daniela Ochoa is a student at UC-Davis, and is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. During her high school years in Salinas, she was involved in Ciclovia and tutoring young children.